Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 257
I must apologise for the late appearance of this edition. It’s been a marathon issue to produce and I’ve been away a lot over the summer, but in fact the main hold-up has been waiting for confirmation of workshop venues and details. I’m sorry if this means that concerts you’ve asked me to list have already happened.
Many thanks to all our contributors. You’ll find plenty to read, including a rather controversial article about vibrato, a very contentious subject. I’ve made reference to the vibrato wars on Facebook at the end of the article, but if you want to join in yourself you’re welcome to send a Letter to the Editor.
If, like me, you have come back from a summer school full of enthusiasm then you will be looking forward to the TVEMF autumn programme, which for the first time includes what might be considered to be an opera. Perhaps that's too grand a term for the Jeu de Robin but Sarah Stowe is sure to make it a fascinating day as her musical credentials are impeccable. Apart from her work with Sinfonye and Sirinu she has been one of the regular tutors at the long-running Chalemie summer school, or perhaps I should say Easter school, now it happens at that time of year.
The Chalemie change of date was brought about because of increased prices in the summer, when foreign students provide a lucrative way of using schools in the long vacation. It's rather a worry that this trend, combined with closure of a number of venues is having a significant impact on our courses. In recent years at least three establishments that I used to attend and no longer available for courses: Springfield House near Rye, Belstead House near Ipswich and Wedgewood Memorial College near Stoke on Trent.
I have been experimenting with designing 3-D printed cornett mouthpieces and have recently been using one of my creations with some success. This has encouraged me to order a complete instrument (nor of my design) and I shall report on it when it arrives. This manufacturing process shows great promise and at a cost of around 10 pence per cubic centimetre it is very economical for small items, such as mouthpieces, but perhaps it will be a while before we see a 3-D printed bass viol!
Music at St Giles
The sun shone brightly on Saturday, 16 July, marking the occasion of the first visit of TVEMF to the Friends’ Meeting House in St Giles, Oxford, and its attractive and well-kept garden. Once again, we were delighted to welcome Patrick Allies, with whom we had previously explored the unpredictability of Lassus and the unknown reaches of Hieronymus Praetorius. The event, in which both singers and instrumentalists took part, was devoted to the study of the six-part motet (SAATBB) in illo tempore by Gombert, the text being taken from Luke xi, vv-27-28, and the parody mass based on it (SSATTB, with an additional alto part in Agnus Dei II), by Monteverdi.
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) began his musical career in Cremona, and joined the group of musicians maintained by Vincenzo I, duke of Mantua, at some time between the publication of his second and third books of madrigals (1590-92). Notwithstanding the firmly established reputation as a composer that he had achieved by 1600, he was heavily criticised by the musical theorist and canon of San Salvador, Bologna, G.M. Artusi, in the second part of his discourse ‘On the Imperfections of Modern Music’. This consists of a Socratic dialogue between two gentlemen, Luca and Vario, in which Luca tells of the recital of madrigals which he attended the previous evening, and Vario expatiates on the iniquity of breaking the good old rules handed down by so many theorists and excellent musicians, as displayed by the passages to which Luca refers. He prophesies that this mode of writing will not endure, and the dialogue terminates, leaving Luca perplexed. Both Monteverdi, in his fifth book of madrigals (1605), and his brother Giulio Cesare replied vigorously to Artusi’s criticism, generating even more publicity for Monteverdi’s music. It is also thought that Monteverdi’s later compositions were intended, in some degree, as a riposte to criticisms such as those of Artusi.
After the death of his wife in 1607, Monteverdi’s relationship with the ducal court at Mantua took a turn for the worse, and it is known that he no longer wished to keep on producing entertainment music and was looking for a new position. The year 1610 saw the publication, in Venice, of his collection of sacred music Sanctissimae virgine missa senis vocibus ad ecclesiarum choros ac Vespere pluribus decantandae, which included the Vespers, and which he dedicated to Pope Paul V and delivered to him in person. If he hoped thereby to persuade the Pope that he was worthy of employment as a serious church musician, he was unsuccessful. Michael Bloom was able to provide us with some information on the visit to Rome; unfortunately the BBC programme1 which is its source is no longer available in full. It appears that the duke wished to retain Monteverdi in his service despite the composer’s dissatisfaction, and would not permit him to leave Mantua, so he left without permission. However, the Pope was forewarned of the intending visit, and in the result the journey proved fruitless. Monteverdi returned to Mantua but in July 1612, duke Vincenzo’s successor, Francesco, abruptly dismissed him and a number of others. Following the death in 1613 of Martinengo, the then maestro di cappella of St Mark’s, Venice, he was invited to Venice where, according to the New Grove, he performed some of his church music before the procurators as a test. He was then appointed to the post, which he held for the rest of his life.
The Missa in illo tempore, which is included in the 1610 collection, is the subject of a letter from his assistant at Mantua, Don Bassano Cassola, to Cardinal Fernando Gonzaga; a translation is reproduced in the booklet by John Whenham accompanying the Hyperion recording, by the King’s Consort, of the 1610 Vespers and the mass. In part it reads ‘Monteverdi is having printed an a cappella Mass for six voices…building up more and more the eight points of imitation [actually ten]2 which are in Gombert’s motet ‘in illo tempore’.
Patrick explained to us that the Mass, composed in the stile antico, which involved very little homophonic writing, was an unusual type of parody mass, since it did not replicate the entire structure of the motet on which it was based, but extended and reworked the points of imitation. There was a perhaps jocular suggestion that a competition should be held later in the day to see who could identify the most points, but no more was heard of it. Gustave Reece, in Music of the Renaissance (1954), p.500, instances the reworking, in Kyrie II and in Deum de Deo in the Credo, of the motif applied by Gombert to the words ‘loquente Jesu ad turbas’ and a sequential figure in Kyrie II and elsewhere, derived from the opening notes of that motif. Because the Mass is structured in that way, we explored several movements of it before turning our attention to the motet.
Gombert (ca. 1495-1560) was one of the most prolific composers of motets; various works of reference credit him with between 160 and 180. Reece (pp.344-45) comments that he did not always follow Josquin’s practice of working out a motif in imitation only once, but rather might rework it several times, with different numbers of entries in the various parts, and quotes the loquente Jesu section of in illo tempore as an example of this. The motet vividly depicts the dialogue in which the woman in the crowd extolls and blesses the attributes of Jesus’ mother, with a particularly florid rendition of et ubera quae suxisti, (which would no doubt have attracted the severe disapproval of the Council of Trent when they finally got down to business in 1557) and Jesus magisterially replies that, rather, the man is blessed who hears the word of the Lord and keeps his commandments. By the time we had worked through the whole of the Mass, including the Credo, which at 288 bars is by far the longest movement, the tea break, in the shade of the garden, was particularly welcome. The day concluded with a sing-through of the motet and the Kyrie, Sanctus and Benedictus and Agnus Dei I and II of the Mass.
Once again we are most grateful to Patrick for calmly and patiently directing us through the intricacies of the music. The TVEMF management is to be congratulated on having found such a charming venue, and warmest thanks are also due to David King for his meticulous organisation of the event and production of the music, and to all those who helped in providing and distributing refreshments. Even at thirty-three degrees in the shade, a cup of tea in a traditional English garden is a boon.
2 Presumably Whenham’s interpolation
A Personal Response to the Gombert / Monteverdi Event
on Saturday 16th July 2016
I see that TVEMF were dealt a blow in March by not being dealt a Blow. No such problems this time. The Gombert/Monteverdi day in July was one of the best events I have attended. Apart from the copies being all present and correct, three factors contributed to this. Firstly the music, particularly the Monteverdi ‘Missa in illo tempore’ which was an extremely beautiful and satisfying work by this master and not overly difficult to sing. It was interesting to compare it with better-known works by the same composer, as well as with the Gombert setting of a similar text. Another factor was the venue for the day, the Friends Meeting House in Oxford with its peaceful setting at the end of a large garden. Smaller than most of the venues we use, it provided a superb location for this music, and the more intimate acoustics greatly added to the enjoyment of the day. The third factor was the tutor, Patrick Allies. I have attended a number of his workshops and what I particularly appreciate about his approach is that he allows us to sing a longish passage, often the whole of a section, before intervening with comments and corrections. It makes for a far more satisfying experience when we are not stopped for every small point and allowed to fully immerse ourselves in the section of music we are studying. Many thanks to Patrick, and to David King for organising this highly enjoyable day. I very much hope we have more days with Patrick and use the Friends Meeting House again in the future.
The English Eighteenth Century Chamber Cantata
The English eighteenth century chamber cantata is a relatively unexplored music genre. More than four hundred of these works are to be found in the British Library and other institutions, and with the exception of Arne’s ‘Cymon and Iphigenia’ few have appeared in modern editions. It is difficult to understand why these attractive works, many written by eminent composers of the day, have been so neglected by modern performers.
Composed for the amateur market there are examples to be discovered by the better known English composers of the period Arne, Boyce and Stanley and many more by lesser known, but nonetheless gifted, musicians of the ‘second rank’.
According to Sir John Hawkins’ A General History of the Science and Practice of Music which was published in 1776 ‘That elegant species of vocal composition, the cantata, was invented by Carissimi, an Italian’. Charles Burney, however, claims that ‘the term cantata (was first) used for a short narrative poem in the Musiche varie a voce sola of Signor Bendetto Farrari da Reggio, printed in Venice in 1638’. (A General History of Music, 1789).
Johann Christoph Pepusch, whose ‘Six English Cantatas’ were published by Walsh in 1710, claimed they were ‘The first Essays of the Kind, written for the most part several Years ago as an Experiment of introducing a sort of composition which had never before been naturalised in our Language.’
Early English cantatas with their Italianate recitatives and da capo arias gave composers an opportunity to work in the Italian operatic style. Indeed each cantata is, in effect, a miniature opera. Fanciful plots are played out in the timeless dream world of Virgil’s Arcadia, the home of pastoral poetry and song. Set for a small number of
performers, the chamber cantata enabled a little of the drama, if not the spectacle of the opera house, to be enjoyed in the eighteenth century drawing room.
There is a copy of ‘Cymon and Iphigenia’ in Jane Austen’s music collection and we can imagine her sitting at her square piano (‘as good a one as can be got for 20 guineas’) in the sitting room of the cottage in Chawton, Hampshire, which she shared with her mother and sister Cassandra, enacting the romantic tale.
Each cantata tells a brief but complete story. Short recitatives set the scene and move the action along followed by attractive, tuneful and above all approachable arias. Far removed from the stresses of modern life (and no doubt the lives of contemporary musicians) the imagined pastoral dream world is inhabited by nymphs, shepherds and the gods and goddesses of classical mythology.
Cupid, the Roman God of desire, that rather chubby, impish, winged boy with his mischievous bow and arrow, often has a significant contribution to make to the story lines. There is usually a moral to be drawn or a lesson to be learned, but plot lines, almost invariably involving love, unrequited or otherwise, are reassuringly ephemeral ‘calculated rather to entertain the Fancy rather than to improve the Understanding’ (Hawkins). Throughout history, however, an important role of popular music has been to portray a naïve, idealistic and escapist view of the world.
We can but speculate on the nature of contemporary performances. As a minimum usually one singer and a continuo instrument are required but occasionally there are obbligato instrumental parts as in John Broderip’s exposition of the power of music in ‘On Voice and Beauty’. It’s possible that grander, costumed performances took place for the country house entertainment and amusement of the well-to-do, perhaps with vocal parts shared among several performers. After all here was an opportunity to recreate some of the gesture and the drama of the opera house in one’s own home.
Above all this is music to enjoy whether as performer or audience. The sentiments can be exaggerated and you can immerse yourself in the idyllic pastoral world of Belinda, Teraminta, Eurillo and all of the other idol frolickers in the charming and engaging world of the English chamber cantata.
Peter Harrison’s edition of SIX ENGLISH CANTATAS is published by GREEN MAN PRESS (www.greenmanpress-music.co.uk). I haven’t got a copy, but I do have the very enjoyable Pepusch cantatas for soprano/tenor, obbligato recorder and continuo from the same publisher (TVEMF member Cedric Lee) so if you fancy trying them I’ll have them at the Baroque day on 6th November.
Voices and viols
A couple of times within the past year I have been asked to form a viol consort to join a choir in a concert for voices and viols. The experiences have been very enjoyable and lead me to reflect on the types of music for which this combination is either specifically composed or is nevertheless suitable. It has also made me to think about some of the potential problems of taking part in such public concerts.
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, particularly in England a great deal of music was composed for viol consort, generally in four to six parts and much of it is of extremely high quality. It is this core repertoire that is now played by a thriving community of amateur players. However for viol players to restrict themselves to such
music is to neglect an even larger repertoire of music for which viols can be employed either alone or with voices. Much music of the period was designated ‘Apt for Viols and Voyces’ and this included music from overseas particularly Italian madrigals. Furthermore almost all polyphonic vocal music of the period also works extremely well for viol consorts or a combination of voices and viols. It is often more practical for a group of amateurs to perform such music with a combination of voices and viols or viols alone as it avoids the necessity of having all the right vocal voice types present. Viol players are generally able to play all sizes of the instrument allowing great flexibility. Another option is to play a part and sing it at the same time if it fits your vocal range. I daresay some exceptionally gifted musicians can play one part whilst singing another.
There is, especially again in England, a rich repertoire of music specifically composed for voices and viols and there are two main genres of such music. Firstly there is the consort song which consists of one voice with several viols. Arguably the greatest composer of consort songs is William Byrd. The other genre is the verse anthem. Some verse anthems are scored for voices with organ but many are for voices with viols. The verse anthems by Orlando Gibbons are particularly fine and one of the most popular is ‘This is the Record of John’.
In the two concerts I took part in, the viols were given slots in which to perform purely instrumental music written for viols but the two conductors used us in different ways with the choirs. On the first occasion the music was largely sacred and the viols doubled the voices in some pieces, played with vocal soloists in consort songs and played with the whole choir in verse anthems. On the second occasion, the music was entirely secular and the viols doubled the voices in a selection of English madrigals.
As mentioned earlier, taking part in a concert with a choir is not without its problems. Firstly there is the issue of pitch. Most viol players, though not all, tune to A=415. Many players, myself included, do not like to tamper with this because it risks pitch instability and string breakages. Secondly viols do not work well in keys of more than three flats or two sharps but a lot of modern editions of vocal music of the period transpose the music into extreme keys to suit choirs of mixed voices. Thirdly there is the matter of sourcing instrumental parts for works not specifically composed for viols. If vocal works are available on CPDL it is possible to extract parts using ‘Partifi’ but inevitably this will mean that tenor viol players will have to cope with treble octave clefs rather than alto clef. Whereas tenor players have to be able to play from treble octave clef it can be risky playing music from a mixture of clefs at a public concert. Alto clef parts can be created using software such as Sibelius but this is quite labour intensive. However it is amazing how many arrangements of works there are now on IMSLP and with a little programme negotiation with the conductor for the English madrigals concert I was able print out all the tenor viol parts in alto clef. The fourth problem is that even if viols are always tuned to the same pitch, whether it be A=415 or whatever, they do go out of tune very easily and especially if they have not had a great deal of time to settle into an environment of stable temperature and humidity. The sound of a viol consort well in tune is magical but even small imperfections in tuning can ruin this magic. However in a concert there is a limit to which the audience’s patience can be tried so sometimes compromises have to be made in the time spent tuning between pieces. At the two concerts I took part in we were fortunate in having sympathetic conductors who allowed us to play at A=415 and chose music to in appropriate keys. We were also lucky that the climatic conditions were such that that there were no tuning problems.
I hope this short article will encourage people to arrange more voices and viol sessions in their own homes, attend some of the voices and viols courses that are held in various venues and also, if they are in choirs, to suggest to the conductor that they might like to hold a concert with viols. Finally, if you are a viol player in TVEMF with viols already tuned to A=440 or are willing to tune up to A=440 then you will be extremely welcome at our workshops for voices and instruments and also at the renaissance chamber music day held every year. In addition you are welcome at the baroque chamber music days which can accommodate viols tuned at A=415 and A=440, though most groups play at A=415.
Workshops for Singers vibrato!
One of my favourite Hoffnung cartoons is of a singer - a famous Italian tenor maybe - belting out what's probably a romantic operatic aria, with passion, to his audience. His waistcoat has a built-in set of labelled voice-control knobs - on/off, ppp-fff, sobs, wobble - and he's adjusting the wobble knob.
Which brings me to a somewhat delicate point about TVEMF workshops for singers. Unlike this soloist, some of the singers who attend these events - fortunately a small minority - apparently feel no such need for a wobble control: the vibrato is just left permanently full on! I wonder whether this is through choice, ignorance, lack of control, or just sheer habit?
Vocal vibrato is an acquired, not a natural, phenomenon; it's not universally admired and I believe it's unknown or unused in some cultures. (Where it does exist, it's sometimes acquired as a result of singing lessons where a bigger range of dynamics is also fostered, so it may be no coincidence that wobbly voices are often also strong voices.) Vibrato has its place in western solo singing, and Hoffnung's singer knows how and when to use it. But in choirs it can be - and often is - a problem; and in early music choirs it's surely a no-no. It wouldn't be tolerated in the best early-music choirs - think of Stile Antico for example.
I'm certainly not the only TVEMF singer whose enjoyment of past workshops has occasionally been ruined by the close proximity of seasoned wobblers. Past experience has taught us sufferers to avoid sitting near known culprits, but sometimes this is unavoidable and there is always the possibility of being caught out unawares by unknown ones. You can't tell a wobbler just by looking at them, which makes choosing a seat a tricky business. (On one occasion when I struck unlucky, I could bear it no longer, and left.)
It's not just that vibrato is inappropriate. The culprits may be delightful people, good musicians, very experienced singers and fluent readers, but presumably they have no idea of the effect they have on their neighbours, especially on those of us with quieter voices than theirs; and how they themselves cope with the sound they produce, I have no idea. In a choral context, vibrato muddies textures, confuses the ear and distorts the sense of pitch. When you're singing, if the nearest or loudest thing you can hear is a noise which is relentlessly varying in pitch - possibly quite widely - how can you hear what the proper pitch is? Or whether you're in tune? (or with what?) You have no firm basis to relate to - it's like trying to tune a viol to a swanee-whistle; and you simply can't get the sounds into focus - it's like trying to read small print through frosted glass; (and maybe you can't even hear your own voice at all because you're being drowned out - it's like trying to match a colour-sample in pitch darkness.) And any of these difficulties can sometimes be exacerbated by the particular acoustics of the hall.
Yes, I know - TVEMF singing workshops are open to all - wobblers and "straight-ers" alike. Whatever our individual strengths and weaknesses, we all share the same reasons for applying: we enjoy singing, we like the type of music offered, we appreciate working with a good conductor, and we want to participate and to learn. And sometimes it's wonderful. But one of the aims in good choral singing is to listen to the other voices and make sure your own blends in well; and vibrato at these events sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb, as well as causing considerable discomfort to others. (Perhaps it should be classed as a notifiable disease?) And don't we all deserve to enjoy the day that we've booked, paid for, and looked forward to?
So this is a very serious plea to four different groups of people. To organisers: please firmly tell us in advance to leave our wobbles at home. To conductors: please keep reminding us to switch the vibrato off if we forget. To all singers: please carefully inspect your own voice for wobble (both before and during the event) and don't be tempted to inflict it on others. To habitual wobblers: if you can't resist coming to these events, please listen to yourself and to the blend of voices, consider your neighbours, and try to acquire one of those special waistcoats.
Vibrato is certainly a controversial topic. The NEMA website has a link to a document which summarises the “vibrato wars” a hotly debated topic on Facebook. You’ll find it at www.earlymusic.info/nema.php in the right-hand column. My feeling is that some people are a lot more sensitive to vibrato than others. Personally I can’t listen to a modern string quartet because all the vibrato makes me feel positively queasy, but I’m obviously in the minority. And I’m not convinced that people who vibrato are necessarily aware of it, so we need to be tolerant. Editor.